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Sun 01 Aug 2004
A Mac at Work
Category : Technology/AMacatWork.txt
I've highlighted the work we're doing at the traveler's hostel, Beds Central, because, for a long time, we've been looking for a project that'll allow us to express ourselves fully.
And this is it.
While I'm working on the project, I'll be able to explain how the Mac-based tools we're using allow us to do things a bit differently from the way IT projects are normally carried out. For a start, we get to use both sides of our brain, using the same set of tools on a single computing platform, to solve the widest range of problems, in both starting and running a business.
For example, for budget planning we use, like every company on the planet, Microsoft Excel. But, in the case of businesses like hostels and hotels, budget planning goes hand-in-hand with space planning. So, we're rapidly getting out of the purview of most IT managers when we start to pull out Macromedia Freehand and Adobe Illustrator, to work on top of architect's drawings, to find out how many beds we can optimally put into the space that we have.
It's easy to get the architect to produce copies of the floor plans to a certain scale, then scan these in, and within minutes, we're on a roll. We're able to constantly come back to these drawings, and using layers, we're able to position the air-con ducts, electrical points, lockers, partitions, lighting, etc., and use these as the basis for detailed costings, and to describe the scope of the work more accurately to the contractors.
Once the budget is settled, it gets entered into an accounting system. With the company registered and bank accounts opened, it's going to start paying people. So, the accounting system is invaluable for maintaining financial controls and forcing everybody to watch the budget.
Of course, there's a need to communicate all these things to so many people and get them organised. But watch how these things are so much easier to set up in our day. We need a web site, a site on the Internet that we can do business from - with a mail server, a web server, and an ability to program things so that you can exchange information with the intended audience, and also an ability to link these transactions to the accounting system, which sits on the server and is accessible to all the right people across the Internet.
There's an inversion of some sort here. The technical infrastructure are the easiest to set up - literally within minutes. Once you've got an active broadband line, getting the web and mail servers up, registering a domain name and activating it - all these can be done in one session without getting off the chair. The web content and the programming are on-going stuff - they need to be constantly updated for the life of the business. But the reservation system (protoyped using PHP but written eventually using Java) is largely done. So, the thing that took the longest time to do was actually coming up with the name of the hostel. Even then, we have Google and this gives us tremendous power to do so much research over the web.
Coming back to web sites. Most IT people think only about Linux, etc. But how do you make maps on those machines? I mean, I mocked up the site quickly, using maps I "borrowed" from map sites and photos that I scanned in from books. But these won't do, once the site is offically up. I have to quickly replace them with original work. I've been using Adobe Illustrator to make my own maps. It's the first time I've ever used Illustrator but I've only had to refer to the on-line guide twice. Illustrator's integration with GoLive and Photoshop is so wonderful, I save a lot of time by using them together.
The Lonely Planet guide-books call their map-makers cartographers. So, now I'm a cartographer, designer, programmer, writer, and anything else.
It's all due to these tools.
On the Mac. On my iBook. And on Hai Hwee's Titanium.
Is there any computing platform more productive? Macs for business? Are people still laughing at such a notion?